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Blood tests are all that's needed to detect thyroid disease

Posted at 6:33 AM, Nov 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-04 07:38:16-05

More than 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease, according to the American Thyroid Association, but up to 60 percent don't know it.

A simple blood test to check your thyroid's hormone levels is all that's needed to find out if you have this disease.

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck that can have a dramatic impact on your body. It controls your metabolism, regulates your body temperature, keeps your heart pumping, and so much more.

“So thyroid disease can occur in one of two ways: you can either have a high-functioning thyroid or hyperthyroidism, or you can have a slow-functioning thyroid or hypothyroidism,” said Amistad Community Health Center internal medicine physician Dr. Jacqueline Phillips.

Dr. Phillips said more than 12 percent of Americans will develop an underactive thyroid or an overactive thyroid.

“Symptoms you will have if you have hyperthyroid is a rapid weight loss; you will feel nervous, you will have palpitations, or you will feel your heart beating irregular," Dr. Phillips said. "You will also have some diarrhea, and be hot all the time.

"Hypothyroidism is when your thyroid is acting slow and will have opposite symptoms. So people with hypothyroidism will tend to gain weight, feel cold most of the time, you will have hair loss, dry skin, and you will just overall feel tired and fatigued."

People of all ages and races can get thyroid disease. However, women are five to eight times more likely than men to have thyroid problems. In fact, 1 in 8 women will develop thyroid problems during her lifetime.

“Your doctor will check two labs, the first lab is TSH and the second lab is a free T4," Dr. Phillips said. "Based off your levels, you will either be diagnosed of having too much thyroid or too little thyroid. If you have too little thyroid (hypothyroidism), it is replaced with a small tablet that contains thyroid hormone. If you have too much thyroid (hyperthyroidism) then what you will need to do is take a medication that will help your thyroid stop making hormone, and then they will refer you to an endocrinologist for further treatment."

Thyroid disorders are fairly common in adults. Fortunately, nearly all thyroid problems can be managed successfully when identified early.

“Prevention would be with regular screening, and especially if you are having any symptoms of either hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, that you talk to your doctor, and you get the appropriate blood work done,” said Phillips.

Dr. Phillips says you should really see your doctor if you are having rapid weight gain or rapid weight loss.

Consider seeing your primary care provider if signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism are present, or if a nodule is noted in the lower front sides of your neck.
Your provider will perform a detailed medical history and physical exam.

Workup may include lab tests, X-rays and referral to an endocrinologist. If surgery is needed, you will be referred to an ear, nose and throat, or general, surgeon with expertise in performing thyroid procedures to evaluate and talk with you about your options.

The following are symptoms for hypothyroidism:

  • Fatigue
  • Frequent, heavy menstrual periods
  • Forgetfulness
  • Weight gain
  • Dry, coarse skin and hair
  • Hoarse voice
  • Intolerance to cold

The following are symptoms for hyperthyroidism:

  • Irritability/nervousness
  • Muscle weakness/tremors
  • Infrequent, scant menstrual periods
  • Weight loss
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Enlarged thyroid gland
  • Vision problems or eye irritation
  • Heat sensitivity